Chestnuts are the unique fruit of the Castanea species of deciduous trees, which can be found on nearly every continent across the globe. Chestnuts can be eaten a variety of ways and have a unique nutritional make up, which allows them more versatility than most nuts.
Chestnuts grow on trees surrounded by a spiny shell, which begins to open as the fruit matures. Inside the spiny shell is a dark brown, shiny nut, with a starchy center. The starchy center, or endosperm, is the edible portion.
Chestnut Flavor and Texture
Chestnuts have a mild and slightly sweet flavor that makes them perfect for both sweet and savory dishes. The texture of a chestnut is similar to that of a potato, slightly crunchy when raw and softer when boiled, steamed, or roasted.
Chestnuts vs. Other Nuts
Chestnuts are unique compared to other nuts because of their low fat and high moisture content. Unlike most nuts, chestnuts are comprised primarily of carbohydrates, making them more nutritionally akin to a grain. Chestnuts are high in fiber, low in calories, and rich in complex carbohydrates and Vitamin C.
Chestnuts are often sold fresh during the winter months, making them a popular holiday treat. Fresh chestnuts can be roasted, steamed, boiled, deep fried, or even microwaved. Because fresh chestnuts contain a high percentage of water, they are more perishable than most nuts. Always score or the skin of a fresh chestnut before cooking to allow steam to escape and prevent them from exploding. Fresh chestnuts should be kept refrigerated and will stay fresh for four to six months when kept in a breathable container.
Dried chestnuts can be kept at room temperature and should be kept away from sunlight and moisture. Dried chestnuts can be boiled or ground into a flour and used in baked goods. Be sure to keep dried chestnuts in an air-tight container to keep pests and moisture at bay.
Chestnut flour is used in many baked goods throughout Europe. Because chestnuts are so high in carbohydrates and low in fat, the flour works very similarly to other grain flours, like wheat. Chestnut flour is used to make fritters, cakes, pasta, and even polenta.